Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Understanding emotions without language

Date:
November 12, 2011
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Does understanding emotions depend on the language we speak, or is our perception the same regardless of language and culture?

The researchers findings suggest that understanding emotional signals is not based on the words we have in your language to describe emotions. Instead, emotions appear to have evolved as a set of basic human mechanisms.
Credit: Oliver Le Guen/MPI for Psycholinguistics

Does understanding emotions depend on the language we speak, or is our perception the same regardless of language and culture? According to a new study by researchers from the MPI for Psycholinguistics and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, you don't need to have words for emotions to understand them.

The results of the study were published online on October 17 in Emotion, a journal of the American Psychological Association. The study provides new evidence that the perception of emotional signals is not driven by language, supporting the view that emotions constitute a set of biologically evolved mechanisms.

The study compared German speakers to speakers of Yucatec Maya, a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. In Yucatec Maya, there is no word for the emotion 'disgust', explains co-author Oliver Le Guen, an anthropologist based in Mexico. When Yucatec Mayan subjects were shown photographs of emotional faces and asked what they thought the person in each photo was feeling, they used the same words to describe angry and disgusted faces. German-speaking subjects, however, used different words for angry and disgusted faces. This showed that the two languages differ in which words speakers have access to for these emotions.

Mix of emotions

The participants from the two language groups were also asked to perform a task using photographs of people showing mixed emotions. The photographs were digitally manipulated to control the mix of emotions in the faces so that the two photos were always equally different across all pairs. Subjects were shown a photo of a mixed-emotion face, which was then replaced by a pair of photos. One of the members of the pair was the original photo, the other featured the same person, but with a slightly different mix of emotions. In some pairs, the dominant emotion in the two photos was different, while in other pairs, the dominant emotion was the same. The participants were asked, for many pairs of photos, which of the two pictures they had just seen.

"Earlier research has found that people who have different words for two emotions do better on this task when the dominant emotion in the two photographs is different, like when one is mainly angry and the other one is mainly disgusted," explains Disa Sauter. "But is this because they internally label the faces angry and disgusted, or is it because emotions are processed by basic human mechanisms that have categories like anger and disgust regardless of whether we have words for those feelings?"

Basic human categories

The crucial test provided by Sauter and colleagues' study was how the Yucatec Maya speakers would do, since they only have one word for both disgust and anger. Their results showed that they did the same as the German speakers, performing better on the task when the two faces they had to choose between were dominated by different emotions.

"Our results show that understanding emotional signals is not based on the words you have in your language to describe emotions," Sauter says. "Instead, our findings support the view that emotions have evolved as a set of basic human mechanisms, with emotion categories like anger and disgust existing regardless of whether we have words for those feelings."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Disa A. Sauter, Oliver LeGuen, Daniel B. M. Haun. Categorical perception of emotional facial expressions does not require lexical categories.. Emotion, 2011; DOI: 10.1037/a0025336

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Understanding emotions without language." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111102093045.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2011, November 12). Understanding emotions without language. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111102093045.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Understanding emotions without language." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111102093045.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Couples Who Sleep Less Than An Inch Apart Might Be Happiest

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study by British researchers suggests couples' sleeping positions might reflect their happiness. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins